My filmmaker friend and colleague Laurie Kash made this film of the Women's March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017. Full disclosure: I'm in it. Watch it anyway. It is a beautiful portrait of national and global resistance.
I recently learned that I have something in common with a close relative of a friend of mine: a love for cats.
My friend's relative has inherited cats from other people, and he considers his companionship with a cat (or any pet) to be a lifetime commitment. So have I, and so do I. He, at one point, went into hock to pay the astronomical medical expenses of a sick cat for whom he felt responsible. So did I. He has carried out reverent funeral rituals for his cats and their wild sentient grace. So have I.
But there is also something we do not have in common. He is a fervent and committed supporter of President Donald Trump. I am a fervent and committed opponent of President Donald Trump.
He, as an active Trump proponent, is exactly the kind of person I want to demonize for his energetic support of an amoral and demented tyrant. I want to see him as a traitor to all that it means to be lovingly human. To me, he is in fact such a traitor: he is helping to prop up a regime that continuously tells flagrant lies, foments untold repression and suffering, and hastens the extinction of humans on earth.
I want to see him, this eager Trump enabler, as being that and only that. But I can’t. Because he is also a person who, more deeply than many of my passionately-Trump-fighting progressive friends, is in touch with a bottomless awareness of shared life and kindness that I revere.
This, for me, is the hardest work of our politics right now in America: not simply the work of opposing and defeating evil, but the much harder work of honoring and nurturing and even recruiting the good that confoundingly coexists with our understanding of evil in ourselves and others.
If we, as progressives, are brutally and selflessly honest, we will see that the “enemy” in the Trump phenomenon among our co-Americans is not the simple homogeneous mass of dog-pack supremacism that we are tempted to see, but is instead a motley mess of mourned privilege and betrayed hope. It includes those of us who wanted better but who settled for worse; those of us who believe, naturally, the bigoted lies we are taught by our families and inspirers; those of us, meaning all of us, who simultaneously do kind and cruel things; those of us who have trouble seeing the ways we all fit together; those of us who would all be on the same side of this battle if we were not being bombarded by our inherited hunger for manufactured necessities like being brown and powerful versus being white and secure.
Even as the Trump regime rolls its dice on the raw audacity of making itself the one and only police, our job as citizens is to know when we are being played: whether as hungry ex-slavemasters, as hungry ex-slaves, or as two mutually estranged protectors of cats who, sooner or later, will need to start protecting each other against a maniac who loves no one.
Tom McCarthy's Jan 28 Guardian piece is a good peek into President Donald Trump's jealous-toddler view of the world and what drives his policy moves, which are best understood as tantrums. What's most terrifying is that his triggers for his despicable acts rest so trivially, and even randomly, on perceived personal slights and disrespect (does the trajectory of Trump's weeklong tear have anything to do with media having dissed his tiny little inauguration crowd?).
Maybe it is ever thus with tyrants. But Trump does seem a wicked prototype for the pasty postindustrial piggycrat. He is eerily reminiscent of Dune's Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (below), right down to the first name and the iridescent hair. Call him King Twitter Thumbs. The tub of lard and lies whose tweets kill people.
Here is an excerpt from McCarthy's piece on this week of atrocities from His Grand Petulance:
Donald Trump's first week: carnage, both real and imagined
What started with an ominous inauguration speech has ended with executive orders on everything from immigration to banning refugees and reigniting the fossil fuel industry. What does it mean for his presidency?
The crowd was small, the weather was bad and the speech, which described “American carnage”, was dire. For the tens of millions who voted against him and countless concerned others, Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States felt ominous, no matter how widely Barack Obama smiled and no matter how gracefully he and Michelle Obama made the transition from hosts to departing guests.
The feeling of foreboding did not last. It was overtaken within hours by the realization, at the arrival of the first of the new president’s executive actions, that the most outrageous campaign promises Trump had made to the smallest core of his supporters were now official US policy, or about to be.
Within a week, the rally chant “build the wall!” had morphed into a phrase published on White House stationery: “impassable physical barrier”. A proposed ban on Muslim immigrants took shape as a suspension of visa programs from countries that, as Trump put it, “have tremendous terror”. Grumbling about excessive government regulation had become, in one document, an exhortation to bureaucrats to help an oil company skip the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“He’s delivering the goods to his core constituency in a really visible way,” said John T Woolley, head of the American presidency project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But there are a lot of things that he’s raising that may be above what he truly has the ability to do.”
Seven days into his presidency, the accumulation of Trump’s official actions, at the rate of as many as five a day, has created a new national reality on central policy concerns from the environment to voting rights to international commitments to immigration, healthcare and trade.
“You have to consider this a pretty aggressive use of executive power early on,” said Julian E Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “Using it not only on one marquee issue, which presidents often do, but on a series of major campaign issues, all within just a few days.
“So it’s rapid-fire, but more importantly, each one is a pretty significant decision.”
More difficult to assess than the new president’s official actions, but for many Americans just as significant, has been the impact on the public of Trump’s simple presence in office – the finally inescapable fact, as it were, of Donald Trump as president.
During the campaign, Trump’s lies about the fake scourge of voter fraud, his vain obsession with the size of his crowds (and his hands), and his explosions of bile and irrelevance on Twitter could be semi-ignored as the faults of a mercurial political figure who was quite likely, at least, to lose.
Now Trump is in the Oval Office and his lies are voiced by a press secretary standing behind the White House seal in the Brady briefing room. It was there that Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, falsely declared on the day after the swearing-in that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”. Trump’s audience was in fact significantly smaller than Obama’s 2009 crowd, but members of the media who tried to brandish evidence of the fact were shouted down.
Spicer rolled out another whopper days later, informing the country that the president still (wrongly) believed millions of votes had been illegally cast in November. As supporting evidence, he pointed to a 2012 research report on voter fraud, prompting the author of the report to categorically deny that the report said any such thing.
“Of those votes cast, none of them come to me,” Trump told ABC News a day later, embroidering his fantasy. “They would all be for the other side. None of them come to me.”
For Americans who doubt his leadership, just as disturbing as Trump’s new freedom to spout untruths with significantly inflated authority were early reports on his conduct behind the scenes, as he made his first decisions as the most powerful individual on Earth.
Repeatedly, Trump threw thunderbolts from his Twitter account – threatening to “send in the Feds!” to stop violence in Chicago and impugning Chelsea Manning – immediately following negative coverage of those topics on Fox News, which Trump told the New York Times he watches morning and night.
It was TV coverage of his small inauguration crowd that prompted Trump to trot out Spicer. The bad press had not allowed the president to “enjoy” his first weekend in the White House as he felt he deserved, the Associated Press quoted “one person who has spoken with him” as saying. Trump’s decision to act on voter fraud was inspired, Trump told members of Congress, by a conversation with a German golfer.
If Trump’s character is immutable, however, his executive actions may not be. His orders have the power to guide the conduct of federal agencies and officials, but cannot contravene existing law.
Woolley said: “The question always is – and this is a real question for Trump – whether the president is going beyond the scope of the law, whether he’s infringing on congressional power, and whether he’s infringing on the divides between national, state and local power.
“There’s going to be a festival of lawsuits about almost every controversial action that he takes.”
Next week, Trump is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress and announce a nominee to fill the vacancy on the supreme court.
For those of us in America who have the cushion of assuming a daily life free of being physically kicked in the ass, jailed, blacklisted or fired from our jobs for political reasons, or threatened or worse by goons who do whatever the state pays them to do, it is now time to let go of the illusion.
That kind of normalcy has long been a First World problem. Not anymore.
Our personal American bubbles, within which our opinions don’t endanger our uneventfully going to the store or having company over or exercising our right to free speech, are bursting. Fast. Entire swaths of our population – people who work for entire governmental departments that are suddenly forbidden to talk to the public or to the press(!!), law enforcement officers who are ordered to round up newly targeted populations, journalists who are put on brutal notice for what they can and cannot ask or say, citizens who are forced to accept the possibility of being disappeared into unaccountable “black sites” according to the whims of a regime that makes and enforces its own rules in secret – are being herded, under threat of injury, into a new way of life.
This is me, and you, that I’m talking about. Every day this week in the United States, more corporate supervisors and religious leaders and mayors and teachers and police and janitors and hospital administrators and writers and child care workers and musicians and congresspersons and government administrative workers are treading more carefully, self-editing, yielding ground, backing off, facing an awful and humiliating choice between what is right and what is safe.
If you’re not scared, and if you’re not pissed off beyond belief at having to confront being scared, you’re in denial.
So let go of what you thought the ground rules were for America in 2017. Adjust to what they are.
And choose: in the face of half our population’s being drunk on an intoxicating autocracy, who are you going to be? Right now?
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe the easily-disproved “alternative fact” that Trump's inauguration crowd in DC was not dwarfed by Obama's in 2008 or by the Women's March in 2017.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that giving brown people less will give struggling white people more – while the rich boldly suck up even more of virtually everything.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that going back to giving more power to for-profit health insurance companies will somehow, for the first time ever, give people more generous choices at lower prices.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that you can gut government (e.g., freeze federal hiring) and wildly expand it (e.g., build a wall, prosecute women for abortion, enforce a ban on Muslims) at the same time.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that suicide bombers and shooters are a greater danger to each of us than more poisonous air, water, and food.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that virtually all of the reputable climate scientists in the world are scammers and that the handful of climate denial scammers are telling the truth.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to believe that a white serial bankrupter who stiffed contractors and ran a phony college is a better ally than a black president who lowered unemployment and favored a higher minimum wage.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to trust a notoriously greedy billionaire because he repeats the obvious truth that “the system is rigged,” even after he fills his cabinet with greedy billionaires and brazenly pursues policies that favor CEOs over everyone else.
- Trump thinks his followers are stupid enough to continue to cheer on the Trump regime’s increasingly brutal scapegoating (e.g., of women, Muslims, blacks, brown immigrants, and LGBT people) while Trump’s billionaire policies lay waste to the lives of working white people.
None of this is new. Dictators thrive on telling bald-faced lies to desperate people.
But what we don't know is: How many Trump followers will see through the con? How many of we Americans as a whole will actively risk being targeted, fired, jailed, or worse to protect our futures and that of our kids? And how many journalists will actually fight – and by that I mean put their careers and possibly their physical safety at risk – for what is provably true and morally non-negotiable?
I shot these videos at today's Women's March in DC. At the latest count more than 500,000 people marched in DC -- double the number that attended the Trump inauguration -- and more than 1 million marched globally.
In the United States, as in most other non-democracies, national politics is a moral sport of the wealthy.
The wealthy players fielded by America’s Red Team feel varying amounts of actual heartfelt care, ranging from the frigidly mercenary to the heatedly passionate, but are for the most part selfishly negative in their agenda. The wealthy players who take the field for the Blue Team are generally more empathic and positive. But both teams’ players perform in a steel-shielded arena where winning or losing may be ecstatic or hurt like hell, may earn roars or ridicule, but won’t affect their personal comfort or lifestyle or that of almost anyone they know.
American presidential and congressional politics, like the NFL or NBA or any other corporate-sponsored contest, is a cage match among fiercely-driven elite gladiators who, regardless of who wins or loses, will all leave the ring rich and surrounded by validators.
That is why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost in 2016. That is why mainstream media reporters and pundits have become irrelevant to what Americans feel and believe. Insulated by corporate cash, with its gilded chokehold on who gets to compete for national leadership, the Blue Team has confidently hogged the mainstream “progressive” mic while growing ever more more clueless about what its voters have to say and need to hear. And the Red Team has increasingly cornered itself with the clash between its lunch-bucket rhetoric and its robber baron policy.
So, with the official political podium and official media closed off to angry and hungry voters who have known for decades (for people of color, make that centuries) that this nation and its economy have been broken by its masters, where could people go for attention?
To Twitter. And Facebook. Where, unlike the ruling American news operations and political parties, it is still permissible to truthfully say, “The system is rigged.”
Problem is, competent and decent potential Blue Team leaders were either self-silenced on this built-in function of economic inequality (Clinton), or blocked within the party (Sanders). And Red Team leaders were happy to exploit anger but incapable of blaming the rich for anything. So the field was left wide open for a celebrity demagogue named Donald Trump to declare, with veracity, “The system is rigged” – while lying about everything else and steering white rage toward people of color, women, and Muslims. All while he and his henchmen exploited Twitter’s and Facebook’s vulnerability to fake news and false accusations.
So the kinder corporate Blue Team lost this election because it convinced itself that it understood working people while having barred them from the actual field of play since at least the Reagan years. And the meaner corporate Red Team lost its stature and what was left of its self-respect in its cave-in to Trump’s white faux-populist scam, but in so doing it rode the coattails of his audacity.
And now, with fascism in the wings, the callow wealthy Reds and the outraged wealthy Blues regroup on the field, with as little to lose in their actual lives as before.
But for those who stand to lose everything, the Red and Blue game is over.
I received a link from my friend Aubrey to a piecewritten by a former resident of Chile remarking on the wicked irony of seeing Americans traumatized by Russian interference in our elections more than 40 years after his own country was ravaged by the bloody toppling of a democratically-elected Chilean government – that of President Salvador Allende – by the American CIA. The writer took no pleasure in the awful observation. But he also refused to spare we Americans the agony of the irony.
It reminds me of this podcast in which a Trump voter voiced her terrible sense of violation at seeing a community of Somali immigrants take over, from her point of view, an entire neighborhood that she and other enraged whites felt they intrinsically owned. She had not a clue about the wicked irony of her bitterness at losing "her" territory in a land where Native Americans know that very experience with far more gruesome familiarity than she will ever fathom.
That is the obscene, comic, tragic absurdity of the consciousness of tens of millions of scared American white voters: Their own tribal legacy on these shores is exactly, and I mean exactly, what they shriek for Trump to defeat in fetishized brown invaders: primitive ignorance, carnivorous violence, savage thievery, amoral entitlement.
It’s all right here in the making of a country that – over its few centuries of incompetent occupation – whiteness momentarily claims as its own.